throwing in (casting) my lot with the evangelicals, but hopefully “simply Christian”

If you’ve known me through the years, you’ll know that I’ve flirted with the Great Tradition, at one time years back considering considering (yes, repeated) becoming a Roman Catholic. And liking much of what I witnessed and was aware of from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I still hold the Great Tradition in esteem, but to make a long story short, it seems evident on the face of it, that the true church is bigger, and that the tradition is not as infallible as it might seem to some. But I won’t dig further there.

I could come up with all sorts of reasons, I suppose, why in the end I remain something of an evangelical (maybe of an Anabaptist, liturgical mix), while not making the mistake of cutting myself off from the Great Tradition, as if they aren’t part of the true church as well. They are, at least all who are born of the Spirit, which is the case since the church is the Spirit-indwelled Body of Christ on earth, surely on both a local and global, universal level.

The evangelicals are made to be a regular punching bag nowadays, from so-called “progressive” Christians to nearly everyone else. And it’s not like we’re without our faults. What tradition doesn’t have issues? Strengths and weaknesses? Of course some will refuse to acknowledge any good in a given tradition, nothing new if we consider social interent sites like Facebook, where never is heard a discouraging or encouraging word, depending.

Let’s just say that I cast my lot in with the church and the gospel, with scripture being the backbone of all of that, the church deriving its authority from both. Of course the Lord himself, to whom all authority has been given, the one from and through whom we live and work.

Can the evangelicals change in some helpful ways before the Lord returns? Of course only God knows what that should be, but surely yes. Life goes on with much change for better or for worse, but God’s word and the truth of the gospel remains the same. Our understanding hopefully will grow within those necessary bounds. And the church by the Spirit most definitely has an important say in that.

Hopefully, “simply Christian” with an emphasis on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is where I stand, but only with others. Yes, each one of us, but also necessarily, all of us together. Before the world, in and through Jesus.

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reading and hearing the Bible together

Probably more than anything else, I’m a Bible person. Two things I like to carry and likely am carrying are my little New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs and coffee. It is good for us to read the Bible, or listen to it, in fact I highly recommend it. That’s in large part within our historical context the result of the Protestant Reformation. And within and around that are both good and not so good influences. A good: examining the translated original texts for ourselves. A not (necessarily) so good: the questioning and often rejection of authority, especially religious authority. But I live in a part of what has come out of that mix. And again, there is great good there, along with that which is not so good.

In churches of the Great Tradition, so much more scripture is read Sunday after Sunday through the lexical readings, so that essentially the entire Bible is read through over the course of I think four years. That is a great benefit, and such churches are blessed. Where we have been attending, taking our grandchildren, the Bible is wonderfully taught in a 45-55 minute message, preceeded by some (surprisingly enough to me) good worship in song, my earplugs intact with the guitars, keyboards and drums (though most Sundays I really could get by without them). But we don’t hear the Book read through except for passages related to the teaching. I would be surprised if most Christians, aside from services, and teaching times, read much scripture at all for themselves.

Within Judaism there’s a practice of reading scripture together, and then discussing and often debating its meaning. I think we can take home something important from that, because we will ultimately better understand the message of scripture together, not apart by ourselves. The Spirit gives the entire church the understanding of scripture and the gospel, and that mediation is more rich and clear through the church, rather than through individuals here and there. Not to diminish the value of scholars who themselves gather from the entire church in their work of helping us understand the text, along with pastors and priests who do the same.

Yes, read the Bible for yourself, and keep reading it. But also find a context where you are reading it with others, and gathering insights from them. And read from the best pastors and teachers, and from scholars as well.

drinking deeply from the faith

The first title that came to mind when I was thinking of something of this post in general was “drinking deeply from the Christian tradition.” I like that title, and believe in what I would mean for it to convey. Usually I don’t concern myself much over titles of posts, but the title of this post is probably more directly related to its content than in many of my posts. Drinking deeply from the Christian tradition is important and we’re at a great loss when we don’t consider the history of the church from the very early church to the present day. There’s much wisdom for us to receive from the church mothers and fathers. And how the Spirit led the church through the centuries is something that we not only have to take into serious consideration, but in terms of the gospel and of the faith certainly has straightforward application for us, especially as expressed in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed.

What I’m getting at in this post is just how we’re to live in the reality of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are anything but faith friendly. Ironically this can be the very factor which helps us to find and learn to drink deeply from the faith that is ours in Jesus.

When I feel overwhelmed, or just burdened down about this or that, I by and by come to realize my own great need of pressing hard into the grace that is ours in Jesus, and seeking to live all the more through that, in the word and through the gospel. In a way, in the midst of it all, sometimes the pummeling that occurs in life, I can learn to relax by faith, and say to myself that through God’s grace in Jesus, all will be alright. That I may need to work through this or that, but to take one thing at a time, and above all seek to trust in God and God’s word through it all.

It is completely gift, the scriptural meaning of grace, in and through Jesus. But we have to make every effort to enter into this rest of faith, to live in God’s grace. This may mean almost feeling our way along at times in a kind of semi-darkness in which we have just enough light to keep us going. Maybe in seemingly complete darkness, crying out to God to be our light, and to give us light through his word.

We in Jesus need to learn to drink deeply from the faith, and to keep coming for more and more. Because that is nothing less than our life, and through our drinking others can come to receive that life as well, in and through Jesus.

the need for both scripture and creed

Although I am thankful to say that I can cite much good from which we can learn, in spades in the ministry where I work with no bad examples there, there is pop theology you can find in many places elsewhere which is not sufficiently grounded in scripture or the great creeds of the church.

We need both scripture and creed in either order depending on what one means, both of paramount and critical importance for the church in its call to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people.

The “Ecumenical and Historic Christian Creeds” include probably the two most common: the Apostles and the Nicene Creed. The Anglican denomination of which we are a part is working on a new Book of Common Prayer which will be more in keeping with the 1662 edition and will incorporate “we believe” in place of “I believe” which overall I find more helpful (but that’s another subject). I’m looking forward to the release of that book. I highly value the creeds and liturgy, because these are the works of the church. No scripture is of private interpretation, we must be committed to the revelation the Spirit has given to the church both in terms of scripture’s initial reception which is actually given through the church one can say, in the first place, and its interpretation, hammered out in the midst of controversy over especially the early centuries of the church.

While first and foremost I would want to be identified as a follower of Jesus along with being a Christian in the orthodox sense, I am also an evangelical, committed to the gospel for life and witness, and committed to scripture as having primacy for our understanding. The revelation given to the church is a living witness, one the church continues to receive by the Spirit, and each of us who are in the church are a part of that reception process. My sense of this in terms of the Great Tradition would be more Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox in that I believe that the church can continue to grow in its understanding of the truth in the breadth of scripture. At the same time I think the gift from the Eastern Orthodox Church is valuable too in its good emphasis on scripture. Where I depart from both is what I suppose makes me an evangelical in the Protestant sense in that I don’t believe tradition is infallible in its totality, or necessarily even meant to be in terms of how it’s practiced. But everything pertaining to the gospel is in at least some sense infallible, since the gospel is both the heart and point of the story, of scripture itself.

I’m excited about the Institute for Bible Reading and a book written by one of its founders, Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Some would say that we simply need to keep tethered to the Church and its teachings. I think it’s a matter of and/both, not either/or. The church itself needs to stay grounded in scriptures in accordance with “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude :3).

Trying to adhere to this will go a long way toward helping us avoid erroneous teaching such as the health and wealth gospel and pop theologies we sometimes see coming up like little weeds everywhere. What we want is the wheat, not the chaff. Vital for our own faith and witness in this world.

keeping the gospel front and center (in our experience in an Anglican church plant)

Deb and I are involved in an Anglican church plant where we live, in the heart of the city of Grand Rapids. It has been an interesting experience, although I hope the experience continues on and grows exponentially over time in seeing a church established and disciples or true followers of Jesus made. The Anglican Church has ties, one might say even roots into both Protestantism and Catholicism. So that depending on the church, it can more of less take on the flavor of either. What is distinctive in Anglicanism from evangelicalism, it seems to me, is that through liturgy (the service is liturgical) and the Lord’s Table (or the Eucharist, Holy Communion) the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is always front and center, or at least not far removed from the service. The priest/pastor preaching the word is important, perhaps equally important along with the rest. But again the liturgy rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and in or under the influence of the Great Tradition along with “Holy Eucharist” keeps the redemptive work of King Jesus front and center.

Our last evangelical church actually did that probably more than any other church I’ve been a part of. And my experience in evangelical churches has been good. The word has been faithfully preached, the churches being true to the gospel. The difference in where we are now is that this is at the heart of each service, so that it is hopefully the heart beat. We are both confronted with the truth and claims of the gospel and we are also blessed with its promises. All as part of the service. So that the preaching or teaching of the word is no longer front and center, but rather part of the whole, having its place, indeed an important place in the service. While the service is vitally important, of equal importance is the common life that is to follow. We are the people of God not just as individuals, but together as a whole. We are family in and through our Brother Jesus. And in Jesus we are on mission, each of us having our part in this world as witnesses of Jesus, as those who live with the goal of keeping the gospel front and center in all of life.

helping a church plant

Deb and I recently joined a church plant in Grand Rapids, Prince of Peace Anglican Church. Michael Cupp is the priest/pastor and there is a committed nucleus. Our hope and prayer is that this church will become well established. Deb and I have been favorable to the Anglican tradition for some time now. When Scot McKnight joined an Anglican church in the same denomination (Anglican Church in North America), I took special note. Years ago I read (as I recall) his two NIV Application commentaries (Galatians and 1 Peter) and later his book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others became for me a most formative book. Add to that other books by him and connecting with him through his blog, Jesus Creed along with his Anabaptist faith and I found a biblical, theological scholar with whom I could track nearly completely.

It was more than difficult to leave our former church, Redeemer Covenant, a most excellent church in a number of ways. This was not so much the case of leaving a church, but of joining the work of another church. More precisely it was and is a matter of thinking that the Lord is calling us to help in this work. Without that sense of calling, such a change could hardly have taken place. Concerning this, Proverbs 3:5-6 seems to be embedded in my thinking: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” And so begins a new adventure.

loving traditions from the Great Tradition (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox), but…

I really have both a love and fascination for the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. I name them in that order, because that is their order of familiarity with me. There is something very grounded and wonderful about these traditions of the faith. I love different aspects of what I understand from both. And I love the Anglican tradition which can be kind of a mediation between the Catholics and Protestants (quoting every Sunday on this blog from their wonderful Book of Common Prayer). I don’t mean to ignore other traditions such as the Coptic Church. I believe we can learn from all the traditions. I especially like some of the practices, like the stations of the cross (I go to an outdoor shrine near where we live at a Catholic church, taking my New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs with me). I am not used to prayer labyrinths, but have found them helpful in helping me focus on God and God’s love as well as the journey of faith I am on in this life. I love the incense, chantings in song of scripture and the beauty of the Eastern Orthodox Church. And I think we who are not a part of such traditions can and should learn from them. They have a rich heritage which has spanned generations so that they have more than a leg up on many of the rest of us on some rich practices in coming to know God through Christ as well as serving him in this world.

But in an evangelical sort of way I suppose, in a way which is influenced with a special emphasis on scripture and the centrality of the gospel with hopefully the church being more and more embedded within that witness and practice, I find myself enjoying and appreciating such from a clearly Biblically centered approach. I am quite interested in all the traditions and why they are practiced (along with why we don’t practice them), but I want everything to be clearly anchored in the inscripturated word. I am willing to let their traditions meander off (in my mind, at least) here and there on paths in which I think there is no scriptural support, such as prayers to the saints and devoted prayer to Mary, as long as I think such does not violate the letter and spirit of scripture. I know beginning with the emphasis on tradition, we simply interpret scripture differently at key points. I also know there are serious weaknesses in my own tradition. For example for too many church is not a part of who they are, not much more than a tack which is simply helpful to their individual faith. A terrible oversight and misreading of scripture is part of the problem there. Of course we who are in our traditions in some ways can be the most aware of certain weaknesses, while being blind to other weaknesses, needing help from those outside our tradition.

And so I will continue to appreciate the Great Tradition of the Church and seek to grow through parts of it. But my center in practice will continue to be on scripture itself, with hopefully my focus being on Jesus Christ and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, not only for myself, but for the world. Along with hopefully a growing appreciation for the central place of the church in this life and witness.